Trucking — a critical industry in the Miami Valley — has expanded as demand has soared, but it faces significant hurdles to continue its growth.
These challenges impact the Dayton area, which has a big stake in the logistics industry in a region long dubbed the “Crossroads of America” because of the two major cross-country interstates — I-75 and I-70 — that intersect in Montgomery County.
“The trucking companies are part of the supply chain that supports the logistics industry,” said Chris Kershner, who as executive vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce oversees the Dayton Area Logistics Association.
It’s crucial that trucking overcome its challenges, he said, because it affects multiple economic sectors. That includes everything from trucking companies themselves to businesses like the Proctor & Gamble distribution center in Union to Amazon’s expanding Ohio footprint to meet growing consumer demand for package delivery.
The Dayton Daily News Path Forward team digs into the most pressing issues facing the Miami Valley and searches for solutions with lasting impact. That’s why we’re investigating if the Miami Valley is prepared for the jobs of the future, including examining the challenges for our region’s key industries.
This story looks at trucking, which has hundreds of job openings in the Dayton region right now. But our investigation found that local companies struggle to hire drivers, and worry about safety issues like finding enough parking while on the road and regulations.
“Whenever you see a general increase in the economy, we do see an uptick in business,” said Anthony Rocco, vice president of operations at Huber Heights-based Dayton Freight. “We’re growing significantly right now … and so we’re struggling to find qualified drivers in almost all our markets.”
The logistics and transportation sector includes everything related to the warehousing and shipping of goods. A 2015 study commissioned by the logistics association found the economic impact of that industry totals $2.5 billion in sales and 20,000 jobs in Montgomery, Greene and Miami counties and “we’ve only seen growth since that time,” Kershner said.
Nearly 4,000 people worked as heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in just the Dayton metro area last year, according to the latest federal labor stats. Truck driver is often one of the top job openings listed on a state jobs board for the Dayton region.
And Ohio is projected to see an increase of about 4 percent in drivers of heavy and tractor-trailer trucks by 2026, with nearly 8,500 annual projected job openings, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“As there is increased consumer demand for goods, you’re going to see more trucks on the road,” said Rebecca Brewster, president of the American Transportation Research Institute.
Trucking companies have raised wages and added benefits to attract workers, Brewster said, but “ultimately the driver shortage makes its way into the cost of goods that are delivered by truck.”
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More trucks on the road
Trucking has long been a key part of the way America conducts commerce. The number of registered large trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds totaled 11.5 million in 2016, the most recent data available, according to the Federal Highway Administration. That’s a 7 percent increase since 2007.
That means more drivers are needed. The American Trucking Associations estimates the industry is short about 53,000 drivers nationwide. Over the next decade, it will need 898,000 new truck drivers, half of them just to replace retiring drivers. Those estimates are far higher than the 108,400 new heavy and tractor trailer drivers the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will be needed nationwide by 2026.
In the Dayton metro area the estimated annual median pay for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers was just under $40,000 in 2017, according to estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 90 percent of those truck drivers earn less than $59,410 and 10 percent earn more than that, according to those federal estimates.
Tractor-trailer truck drivers had the second-most openings posted in the region that includes Dayton on the state’s OhioMeansJobs.com website. More than 6,080 trucking ads are posted statewide, including nearly 640 in the western region that includes Dayton, according to the most recent available data.
Complicating the hunt for new drivers is that applicants must have a Commercial Driver’s License and be 21 to drive across state lines, a limit some in the industry want lowered.
Dayton Freight started a program targeting its dock workers. They can get their CDL training paid for and work their way up from driving transit vans to the big trucks, Rocco said.
Tom Sample, 47, of Springfield started out on the dock and now drives a full-size truck for Dayton Freight. After 10 years he still loves the job, especially since his route allows him to be home at night.
“The pay is great,” Sample said. “You get a chance to get out there and see the whole city. You get to see different people.”
Montgomery County also started a truck driver training program in partnership with Butler Tech, the Foodbank and Central State University as part of its workforce development program for low-income and dislocated workers. The county pays for the cost of the school, CDL-test fee and transportation to school, and then places the student in a truck driving company and subsidizes a training period, Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said.
Next year U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, plans to reintroduce a bill that would allow people to use federal Pell Grants to attend truck driving school and earn a commercial license.
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, supports Pell Grant expansion as well and said, “We need to create the kinds of educational opportunities that bring smart, hardworking people to the profession, and ensure there are protections in place so that all workers are respected and treated with dignity.”
Truck parking shortage
Another issue local trucking officials are concerned about is that it’s become harder for drivers to find somewhere to park when they must take mandatory rest breaks.
It’s common in Ohio — including on I-75 and I-70 — to see trucks lined up on the berm of state rest area ramps because no spots are left in the parking lot.
“When you see trucks around ramps or you see them alongside the road, that’s just an accident waiting to happen,” said Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express Trucking in Dayton and the former chairman of the American Trucking Associations. “Our government should be providing truck parking.”
The practice of parking on the berm is illegal in some states but trucks are permitted to do it in Ohio.
“We would always encourage commercial truck drivers to plan their driving hours so they can find an available rest area or truck stop for rest periods. For emergency purposes stopping on a ramp is an option, but only if no signs are posted prohibiting parking,” said Lt. Robert G. Sellers, spokesman for the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “If they must stop on a ramp, it would be recommended to pull off on the ‘on-ramp’ portion so they are clear of highway traffic.”
Ohio has responded to the problem by adding parking during rest area renovations, including recently doubling spaces at two Warren County rest areas on I-71.
On Dec. 17, Ohio rolled out federally funded digital truck parking counter signs that are updated using equipment at rest stops to track parking spot openings.
The state’s 85 rest areas each cost an average of $200,000 to $230,000 annually to operate, depending on the location, said Matt Bruning, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation.
“Our rest areas do not generate revenue,” he said. “We would rather see those truck stops (provided) by the private sector.”
Ohio has closed 30 rest areas since 2007, Bruning said, many of them primitive ones with no plumbing. The Ohio Trucking Association fights any efforts by the state to close public rest areas, its President and CEO Tom Balzer said.
Private-sector truck plazas have proliferated and some charge fees to reserve a spot. But Balzer said some communities fight the addition of private-sector truck plazas that would relieve pressure on state-run facilities.
Lack of truck parking is part of the larger issue of deteriorating and inadequate roadway and bridge infrastructure — and the related congestion and delays.
“Poorly maintained roads and traffic congestion create wear and tear on vehicles, waste fuel and increase emissions, create additional stress for drivers, and negatively impact industry productivity,” according to a critical issues report ATRI released in October. “(The) congestion-related delays cost the industry $74.5 billion in added operational costs during 2016.”
While the need to update the nation’s infrastructure tends to get bipartisan support, a comprehensive solution has eluded Congress. Earlier this year Sen. Brown proposed spending $1 trillion to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
“Ohio is one of this country’s greatest logistics and trucking hubs, and yet its infrastructure is deteriorating. This country needs to see a significant investment in infrastructure and it needs to see it now,” Brown said.
Flexibility sought on hours of service
Until recently drivers kept a hand-log of their hours spent driving and resting. But since December 2017, federal rules require that large trucks be equipped with an electronic logging device that detects if the truck moves.
Some in the industry fought against the devices. But Dayton Freight installed them seven years ago, Rocco said, because he believes they’re a good idea.
“That used to be a manual paper process and, to be honest, guys cheated on it so they could get more hours to make more money,” Rocco said. “I’m actually a big proponent of the hours of service (rules). A lot of these hours of service are based on the amount of sleep needed to be an awake employee, an aware employee.”
Log violations were among the most frequent driver violations found in inspections in 2017, according to federal safety data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. Inspectors found more than 342,700 violations of various rules governing driver logs and about 103,200 involved hours of service.
The federal agency is considering industry requests to modify the number of hours drivers can be on duty, revise the mandatory 30-minute break after eight hours of driving, and let drivers with sleeper berths spend less than eight hours in the berth.
Some in the industry want more flexibility. That would allow drivers to get off the road when they are stuck in traffic and apply that time to the required 10-hour rest period. They would get back on the road when congestion has cleared, Balzer said.
The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety — a coalition of insurers, and consumer and public health groups — opposes efforts to modify the rules.
“One of the major safety issues is certainly driver fatigue,” said Peter Kurdock, the group’s general counsel. “More hours behind the wheel, to a safety organization, is really not a good idea.”
Portman said he has been approached by companies asking him to find more balance in the regulations.
Portman is willing to study the issue but said, “We do need regulations. I think all of us who drive on the road want to be sure that there are smart regulations for truck drivers and for trucks — the length and the weight (and) that they get adequate rest.”